Best Places to Visit in Yamagata

Yamagata snow mountains Tohoku

Yamagata is a prefecture located in the Tohoku region of Japan, famous for its great mountains, hot spring resorts and fruits! The prefecture is the largest producer of cherries – about 70% – and fresh seafoods are also easily available as it faces the Sea of Japan. Although not many tourists think of Yamagata prefecture as a travel destination when they are planning their trip, the prefecture in the north-west offers several experiences that you can never have in other urban areas like Tokyo. In this article, we will introduce places to visit in Yamagata!  

Discover Zao Onsen and the snow monsters!

Zao Onsen is located in the Zao Mountain Range, sitting on the prefectural border between Yamagata and Miyagi prefecture. It is one of the most famous hot springs spots in Japan, and also recognised as a resort complex comprising of several tourist spots and outdoor activities. In summer, you can enjoy a refreshing hike in the mountainous area, while the conditions in winter are great for ski and snowboarding. The snow that falls in winter is of great quality and creates some unique structures: the snow monsters of Zao Onsen! Heavy winter storms ice spray the trees which immediately freezes. These fluffy frost covered trees are a beautiful, unique phenomenon!

Surprisingly, the opening of hot spring dates back to 110, which means it has about 2,000 years of history. The quality of water in hot springs is also highly evaluated, and the acidic hot springs help you revitalise your skin and get a better blood circulation. In addition, several types of accommodations including hotels, guest houses, and Japanese traditional inns are available, and you can choose the one depending on your preference!

Zao Onsen Official Website

Travel back in time in Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen is another popular hot spring spot, situated in Obanazawa city in the northwestern part of Yamagata. Obanazawa city is widely known as the largest producer of delicious watermelons in Japan. The weather conditions in the area make for tasty, juicy watermelons!

In Edo era, people working in a silver mine discovered a hot spring source, and this was the beginning of Ginzan Onsen. It also explains where the name Ginzan comes from: it literally means silver mine or silver mountain. Although it is located in an isolated area between the mountains, the hot spring spot is a popular spot ever since its opening. In winter, the entire area is covered with snow, and the view is breathtaking! 

Many of the traditional buildings standing along the stone-paved street are built in Taisho era and provide a unique and calm atmosphere. When walking around the area, you can also find other soothing things such as gas lamps peacefully lighting the area at night – another typical example atmosphere in Taisho era. If you are looking for an ever deeper experience: there is a place where you can rent a Taisho-style outfit and explore the area while dressed in it!

Ginzan Onsen Official Website (Japanese only)
English information is available on Tohoku Tourism

Enjoy panoramic views from Yama-dera

Hoshuyama Risshaku Temple (also known as Risshaku-ji Temple) is the Tendai Sect temple established in 860. This temple has another name which is Yama-dera (山寺), which literally means Mountain Temple. This place is a popular photography spot by nature lovers and is recognized as one of the most scenic spots in Yamagata. The temple comples has been attracting a number of tourists for centuries.

You need to ascend 1,000 steps through the sacred forest to reach the top of the mountain. Taking these 1,000 steps to the summit is worthwhile the effort, from the mountaintop temple complex Yamadera you will enjoy some of the best views in northern Japan! The iconic red structure standing on the steep cliff near the observation desk is called Nokyo-do and the oldest structure of the complex.

Risshaku Temple Official Website
8am – 5pm

Learn about Yamagata at Bunshokan

Bunshokan is a traditional structure what was built in 1916, and was used as a former prefectural government office & assembly building. It is currently open to the public as a museum with a number of exhibits about the history and cultural aspects of Yamagata. The building itself is designated as National Important Cultural Property with a fascinating appearance and design based on a neo-renaissance architectural style from England. You can clearly see the influence of the Western culture during that period. It is also used for holding local community events, concerts and performances. The building has a huge garden full of seasonal flowers and plants, and you can also take a relaxing walk there for free!  

Bunshokan Official Website
9am – 4.30pm
Free admission

Cherry blossom viewing in Kajo Park

If you want to enjoy cherry blossom viewing in Yamagata, Kajo Park is the perfect place to go! Being located on the site of the old Yamagata Castle, it is accessible and easy to find (right in the very center of the Yamagata city). Yamagata castle played an important role as a headquarters for the Yamagata clan during Edo period, and the moat around the castle hasn’t changed since. The main structures of the castle are being restored as much of the castle as possible to its early Edo-period, these renovations are ongoing and set to be completed in the next decade. 

There are around 1,500 cherry blossoms in the park, and it gets packed with visitors to admire the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring. They are illuminated at night, and it is extraordinary mystical! 

Kajo Park & Yamagate castle
5am – 10pm
Free admission

Hike Haguro-yama (Mount Haguro)

Haguro-yama, also known as Mount Haguro, is one of the representative three mountains of Dewa region. Dewa refers to the ancient province which is now part of Yamagata and Akita prefecture. Mount Haguro was the center of the Buddhism culture and mountain worship in Tohoku region along with Mount Aizu and Mount Hiraizumi. Among the Three Mountains of Dewa, Haguro-san is the easiest to access. It is located in 414-meter high above the sea level, and the entire area is full of spiritual spots and well-preserved sacred places.

The five-story pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Tohoku region, is an iconic symbol that you can easily find in any guide books featuring with tourist attractions in Yamagata. It was originally established in 931 to 938, and is said to be rebuilt in 1372. It is designated as National Treasure, and definitely a must visit!

five-story pagoda Mt. Haguro
Crown of Lenten rose, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From the five-story pagoda, there are 2,446 stone steps leading to the summit, where Dewa-sanzan Shrine is situated. It takes about 40 to 50 minutes to reach there depending on how fast you walk, but surely worth the hike!  

Dewa-sanzan Shrine Official Website

Sakata City

When you visit Yamagata, you should also spend some time on the port city of Sakata. Sakata city is located in the northwest part of Yamagata with the third largest population. As it faces the Sea of Japan, you can try some tasty seafood directly delivered from the sea! There is a popular market called Sakata Seafood Market (Sakata Kaisen Ichiba), which offers fresh seafood at an affordable price. The fresh seafood is a real treat!

Sakata Tourism Official Website

Tsukiji Fish Market

Where to stay in Yamagata prefecture

In Yamagata prefecture, you will have many options fore your accommodation. ranging from warm family style hospitality, convenience or spiritual retreats, in yamagate you can find it all. These are some of our recommendations:

  1. Shonai Hotel Suiden Terrasse – a luxury design hotel, mentioned in the top 150 onsens in Japan
  2. Wakamatsuya – a traditional ryokan located in the centre of Zao Onsen
  3. Shukubo Daishinbo – a ryokan in a 350 year old temple, close to Mount Haguro

Don’t forget to check out our private tour!

If you need some help to organize your trip to Yamagata, you should definitely check out our private tour including English guide. We’re happy to help you make your trip to Yamagata a safe, comfortable, and unforgettable memory! Let us know what you would like to go see and do, and we will make your best itinerary

Contact Japan Wonder Travel

When you look at the map of Japan, it might not be your first idea to travel to Yamagata prefecture from other famous tourist destinations such as Tokyo. It is quite a trip up north, however, we can guarantee you what you can experience there is beyond your expectation! We hope you have to have inspired you to travel to Yamagata with this article, it will be an amazing, off-the-beaten-track for international tourists experience! 

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Happy travelling!

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